Underwater sound devices called “pingers” could be an effective, long-term way to prevent porpoises getting caught in fishing nets with no negative behavioural effects, newly published research suggests.
The study of harbour porpoises off Cornwall found they were 37% less likely to be found close to an active pinger.
Concerns have been raised about porpoises becoming used to pingers and learning to ignore them, but the eight-month study – by the University of Exeter and Cornwall Wildlife Trust – found no decrease in effectiveness.
There have also been worries that continual pinger use could affect porpoise behaviour by displacing them from feeding grounds, but when pingers were switched off the animals returned “with no delay”.
The effect was found to be “very localised” – the 37% reduction in porpoise detection at the active pinger compared to a drop of 9% just 100 metres away.
Harbour porpoises are the most common cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) seen at the Cornish coast, where accidental catching by fishing boats (“bycatch”) is a persistent problem.
“Cornwall Wildlife Trust have been monitoring local dolphin and porpoise deaths through our standings scheme for over 25 years, and bycatch is still the biggest threat to these animals in the South West with large numbers washing ashore every year,” said Ruth Williams, of Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
Read the paper here